Women in Rangoon Confront Harassment as Opponents, Not Victims

By Tin Htet Paing 26 February 2016

RANGOON — A female-only self-defense training center was launched in Rangoon on Wednesday with the aim of teaching women how to protect themselves from violence.

The Myanmar Women’s Self Defense Center was founded by five women who said that they hope to build other Burmese women’s knowledge of how to protect themselves when faced with sexual harassment.

“Be an opponent, not a victim,” is the center’s motto.

A month-long course meeting twice weekly will cost attendees 40,000 kyats (US$32). The course will include six sessions in self-defense skills, one briefing concerning Burmese laws related to women, and an introduction to sexuality.

Michelle, a trainer at the center, is a Burmese woman in her early twenties who has been studying martial arts since she was 18 years old. She feels that society is becoming increasingly unsafe and noted that parents, spouses and families of Burmese women often discourage them from going out in public alone and instead want them to stay at home.

“I want Burmese women to have confidence that they can protect themselves through self-defense skills and feel safe wherever or whenever they go out,” she told The Irrawaddy. “I want them to feel no fear.”

Thirty-six-year-old Saw Yu Ko, the owner of the center, said that the training would at least provide a confidence boost for local women, regardless if they encounter a threatening situation in which they have to put the skills to use.

“The skill would deter any behavior that could cause them to feel either mentally or physically harassed,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Rhoda Linton, of the Metta Foundation, is also one of the founders. She said that the session on sexuality was an important addition to the course, because it would teach women to better understand their bodies, and use that knowledge to respond to harassment.

“Women will know their bodies very well, be able to value their bodies and then learn to protect their bodies with self-defense,” she said.

One of 15 trainees in the center’s first course, Zara, is in her late teens and signed up due to her interest in self-defense. She said she has never experienced physical harassment, but has been catcalled at a few times, which made her uncomfortable.

“Some men make me feel mentally insecure. Sometimes, I don’t have confidence to walk in a crowd and I don’t feel safe at all,” Zara told The Irrawaddy. “I want to learn how to respond to these kinds of situations.”

The training was advertised on social media during the second week of February and drew much attention from Burmese women of diverse backgrounds and ages. The center’s first three courses are already full, according to the founders.